It's Webb's to win
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - Webb Simpson has used his brush with victory at the 2011 Greenbrier Classic to his benefit.
Roughly 11 months after he suffered a 1-over-par back nine to miss a three-way playoff, Simpson has arrived on the PGA Tour. He has won three titles, including the latest U.S. Open, and has risen to fifth in the world rankings.
And now he is one solid round from capturing the third Greenbrier Classic. Shooting a 5-under-par 65 Saturday, he's at 14-under 196 through three rounds and is two strokes ahead of Troy Kelly, whose 62 was the round of the day.
Simpson birdied four of his last six holes, finishing with a 20-foot putt on the short par-3 18th hole. He has just one bogey the entire tournament, on the par-3 15th in the first round.
"I haven't made a lot of putts outside of 10 feet this week, so that was a good one to get," he said. "But I kind of figured something out there on the back nine [though] I missed a 7-footer for birdie on 11.
"Inside 10 feet I've been pretty solid, so I think if I can go out and hit it solid again [today] and make one or two of those like I did on 18, I'll be in good shape."
He was in good shape a year ago on Old White TPC, where he led the field at 10 under after nine holes of the final round. Had he finished just 1 under on the back nine, he would have joined the three-way playoff.
Instead, he bogeyed the 10th, 13th and 16th and finished tied for ninth, two shots back.
"I think the main thing was I hadn't won yet, so I realized shortly after the round that I wanted it so bad that it kind of ... I put more pressure on myself than the pressure I was already feeling, and so it kind of locked me up a little bit, and I wasn't able to perform like I had been all week."
Three weeks later, he won his first tournament at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C. He then won a FedExCup playoff event in Boston and finished second on the 2011 money list with $6.3 million.
And this June, he won the U.S. Open at San Francisco's Olympic Club. He used a pair of 68s to drop him to 1 over, then watched Jim Furyk crumble and Graeme McDowell fall short from the clubhouse.
The title came to him, which echoes a theme of how he conducts himself on the course.
"I think this game has proved to me if I just kind of let it come, it usually will," he said. "And if you try to force it, it won't come."
Simpson's wife Dowd, who is expecting the couple's second child in about three weeks, is able to attend because they could drive from nearby Charlotte, N.C. Simpson will miss the British Open in two weeks, he has said.
But a few dozen behind him are charging for a shot at the British, and up to three of those could pull it off. Behind Simpson, the next nine players have not qualified to play in two weeks at Royal Lytham St. Annes.
Kelly, a "Q School" graduate last year who is 187th in the FedExCup standings, is alone in second with a 198. He started the day at 4 under, then shot a front-nine 29 to shoot up to the top of the leader board. With birdies on No. 12, 16 and 18, he took the lead until Simpson got around the course. Kelly at least had the correct distance on about every putt.
"If you look at my statistics, my ranking's not very good on the putting category, so it's just good to see some putts go in," Kelly said. "And I had fun today."
J.B. Holmes, 43-year-old Web.com Tour graduate Ken Duke and PGA Tour rookie Charlie Beljan are tied for third at 11 under. Ted Potter Jr., another Tour rookie, is sixth at 10 under.
Beljan, who reveled in his career-best 62 on Friday, patiently parred the first seven holes, birdied the tough par-3 eighth and scored two more birdies on the back nine - a veteran effort for someone who woke up nervous.
"Nerves? It was funny, I woke up this morning and my heart was racing," he said. "I called a whole bunch of my friends who have been in this position. I called Dr. Bob Rotella. I was freaking out.
"And then as soon as I got out here to the putting green and the driving range and once I got on that first tee, they all just went away. And it was a joy to be able to play with Webb Simpson, Jonathan Byrd, two great guys, and they made it a little easier."
It may have been good for Beljan to not have to play with Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson. Then again, nobody had to play with the two legends after their early departure, including Simpson, who played with Woods the first two rounds.
"I think I'm bad luck for Tiger because he missed the cut in Charlotte with me," he said. "But yeah, those are two of the best players of all time. Tiger's the best player of all time, in my opinion, so when he's not in the field it's a relief because he's such a great player.
"I certainly don't want him to miss cuts, but when he's not lurking around on Saturdays and Sundays it makes it a little easier, I think, for other guys."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsm...@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.
Third round by the numbers
On the 195-yard par-3, he found the bunker in the back round, 39 feet from the hole. He took two shots to escape, two shots to get out of finally chipped to 24 feet, took a penalty stroke along the way, and two putted.
That resulted in a "snowman" 8, a quintuple-bogey.